Cage aux Folles

Image - La Cage aux Folles, credit Pamela Raith

The very first UK tour of La Cage aux Folles visits Bristol Hippodrome from 23 - 27 May.

West End icon Marti Webb, perhaps most famous for Tell Me on a Sunday, which was written for her by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black, plays Jacqueline. Visit Bristol's Vivienne Kennedy caught up with her recently to find out more about the show and Marti’s memories of Bristol Hippodrome.

Hi Marti, it’s good to hear from you, are you having a good day?

Yes I am, thank you. Just getting ready for two shows.

That makes me tired just thinking about it…

Well, I have a very small part in the show so I can’t say that, but everybody else does work very hard. The hours are very long because we do two shows on Wednesday, two on Thursday and two on Saturday. We opened last night so we had technical before that. The first week back is always tough (the show is currently in Dartford following a short break for the cast).

It’s a show that’s been around for quite a long time but it’s not toured before has it…

That’s right, this is the first tour ever.

A lot of people, myself included, won’t have seen it before – what can we expect?

La Cage aux Folles was a huge hit, not just on Broadway but in London as well; it won many Tony awards. The music is by Jerry Herman, who wrote Hello, Dolly! and Mame, and the book is by Harvey Fierstein. It’s a very funny show and very fast, the story revolving around a night club called La Cage aux Folles, which is in St Tropez in the south of France.

The owner of the club is called Georges and his partner is the drag artiste Albin, who heads the acts at the club. Georges also has a son, Jean-Michel, the result of a relationship many, many years ago. Jean-Michel comes to tell his father he’s getting married and everyone is very happy about that, until they find out that the bride’s father is actually the head of a very moral group of politicians who want to shut down all the clubs in the south of France…and then the comedy begins, of course.

It’s got beautiful music and fabulous dances, and I have to say we’ve had standing ovations everywhere we’ve been… people love it, and it’s lovely for us to hear people laugh. It’s highly entertaining.

You play Jacqueline, a restaurant owner, what’s she like?

She runs Chez Jacqueline, the chicest and best restaurant in the south of France… or, according to Jacqueline, in the whole of the world. She’s friends with Georges and Albin. It’s very reciprocal, she sends people from her restaurant to their club, and vice versa. It’s very difficult to get into her restaurant though because, as I’ve mentioned, it is so chic… just like me!

You’ve played Bristol Hippodrome before and in 1992 recorded The Magic of the Musicals at the theatre for an album and TV broadcast (clips of which can still be found on YouTube) – is it a venue that holds a special place in your heart?

Oh yes, I’ve been there many times and it’s almost local for me because I live in Somerset.

They’re going to be selling the seats off this summer; they’re all being replaced with new ones. Might you like a theatre seat in your living room?

(laughs) I’d have to think about that. I’ve got so many seats in my living room, I don’t know where I’d put another one. But I think it’s a great idea, a good way of bringing some money into the theatre.

Yes, indeed, and I think they’re going to give a donation to charity too.

So much better than just burying them, that’s always a sad thing isn’t it.

I’m trying to persuade my (grown-up) children that I need one, I spend so much time at the Hippodrome watching and reviewing shows that it feels a bit like home.

Exactly, it would be a lovely thing to have.

Some of the cast won’t know Bristol, where will you be suggesting they visit? Do you have some favourite cafes or restaurants – somewhere as chic as Chez Jacqueline perhaps?

The trouble is, of course, that we live in the theatre, with two shows on three of the days we’re there we just don’t have a lot of time to look around. We open on Tuesdays, and always have a technical rehearsal that day, so, all in all, there’s not a lot of time for us to actually see anything but we do try to get out somewhere on the Friday, often going slightly out of the area to see something that we wouldn’t get to see otherwise.

Bristol is such a lovely city and everything is so easy to get to from the theatre; it is ideally situated. It only takes a couple of minutes to get to that wonderful shopping centre you’ve got there, which is fantastic (Cabot Circus in Bristol Shopping Quarter). It will be lovely for us to be in Bristol, just unfortunate not to have more time to explore.

This is a long tour, you began in January and it continues right through the summer – how do you keep it interesting for yourself and fresh for each new audience?

Every show is different. We all feel different each time because not every cast member will be in the same mood for every show and of course the audience is always different. That’s the great thing about touring, no two audiences are the same, they laugh at different things, they clap at different things; it keeps it very, very fresh. It never gets stale, it’s like a new adventure every time you go out there.

Can you predict what an audience might be like? Is there any sort of geographical divide?

No, you never know. That’s the wonderful thing about live theatre, you never know how an audience is going to be. And remember, each performance is unique, you never repeat it. That audience, that’s their show, nobody else will ever see it done quite the same way. It’s not like a video, the same every time you see it, over and over again. It’s very special.

While preparing for this interview it struck me that your musical theatre life would actually make a good show or film in its own right – who would play you?

(laughs) Oh, I don’t know. I wouldn’t have a clue. They’d have to find somebody out of stage school or something, kind of like I was. (Marti appeared in her first musical aged 15, while still a student, then left school to make her West End debut in Stop the World, I Want to Get Off with Anthony Newley. She has appeared in Half a Sixpence, Oliver, Godspell, Evita and many more shows including Tell Me on a Sunday, which was written for her by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black. In two years’ time she will celebrate 60 years in show business.)

Finally, what’s next?

I’m doing this until August, as we mentioned earlier, and then… I’m not sure. There might be something else but I never talk about things I might be doing, just in case it puts the kibosh on it.

Actually, I fibbed, I’ve just thought of one more question…

Go on…

Strictly Come Dancing has been in the news this week because they’ve appointed a new head judge… would you ever go on one of those shows?
On no… no, no, no. I wouldn’t do that, no. I don’t think I could cope with it to tell you the truth, I like playing other people, not appearing as myself.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me this afternoon; La Cage aux Folles sounds great and I’m looking forward to seeing it even more now.

If you like the sound of owning a piece of Bristol Hippodrome history, you can snap up some of their theatre seats this summer! Click here for more info.